- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. is considering taking economic and other countermeasures against Russia for violating a key nuclear weapons treaty, a State Department arms control official said Wednesday.

Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told a House panel that the U.S. also is looking at what can be done militarily to make sure Russia does not gain a significant military advantage by not complying with the treaty.

President Ronald Reagan signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, which eliminated an entire class of nuclear weapons. Russia maintains it is in compliance with the treaty, which says the U.S. and Russia cannot possess, produce or test-fly a ground-launched cruise missile with a range of 300 to 3,400 miles.

The current dispute over the treaty comes at a highly strained time between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin over Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, Putin’s grant of asylum to former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and other flaps that have heightened tension between the two nations.

Congress has been stepping up pressure on the White House to confront Russia over the treaty violation, which has been suspected for years. Congressional aides have said that there is evidence that the violations date to 2008. Lawmakers have complained that the U.S. didn’t formally accuse Russia of being in violation until July when the State Department released its annual report on international compliance of arms control agreements.

In her testimony, Gottemoeller also said that Russia was not in compliance with the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and that the U.S. had concerns that Russia might be violating other treaties.

So far, Russia has been unwilling to acknowledge its violation if the INF treaty or address U.S. concern, Gottemoeller said.

“Therefore, we are reviewing a series of diplomatic, economic and military measures to protect the interests of the United States and our allies and encourage Russia to uphold its nuclear arms control commitments,” she said, adding that the U.S. is continuing to have diplomatic discussions with Russian officials with the hope that Moscow will return to compliance.

“Second, we are actively reviewing potential economic measures in response to Russia’s violation,” Gottemoeller said. “And third, the United States is assessing options in the military sphere to ensure that Russia would not gain a significant military advantage from its violation of the INF Treaty.”

Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, testified that the Pentagon has conducted a military assessment of the threat, were Russia to deploy a missile banned by the treaty in Europe or the Asia-Pacific region. He said military-related responses to Russia’s noncompliance would fall into three categories: active defenses to counter intermediate-range, ground-launched cruise missiles; counterforce capabilities to prevent intermediate-range, ground-launched cruise missile attacks; and countervailing strike capabilities to beef up U.S. or allied forces.

“We do not want to find ourselves engaged in an escalatory cycle of action and reaction,” McKeon said. “However, Russia’s lack of meaningful engagement on this issue, if it persists, will ultimately require the United States to take actions to protect its interests and security along with those of its allies and partners. Those actions will make Russia less secure. … This violation will not go unanswered, because there is too much at stake.”

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, which held the hearing, said if the administration does not respond to Russian noncompliance, his subcommittee will take action to “defend our interests and send Putin and our allies very clear messages.”

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